One year ago today, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker issued an emergency order which included a note of two cases of COVID-19 in New Haven.
“It’s been really interesting to go through the different anniversaries and think back on what we knew then and what we know now,” said Elicker.
He said this year has brought the city and community partners closer together in the city’s COVID-19 response, which is tailored to the needs of residents.
“We were the first place in the state where people could just walk up, because all the other testing sites you had to drive up,” said Elicker.
From testing, to finding permanent housing for 300 people who were homeless, to 10,000 vaccinations. Health director Maritza Bond said they’ve followed science to help them do their jobs of promoting health and prevention to the people of New Haven.
“Promoting the resources to the community, ensuring they are educated so it’s not just about ‘let’s get a shot in the arm,’” said Bond. “It’s really about education and vaccinating simultaneously because at the end of the day, they may have vaccine hesitancy and we need to make sure they have the proper information to make the right decision that’s best for them.”
Bond is proud of their work, but also keeps in mind the 183 people who died from COVID.
“All of those lives that are lost, I don’t take that lightly, I keep that at the forefront. They are not just a case, they are not just a number, they are a human,” said Bond.
Tuesday will be one year since Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7D, which restricted one of New Haven’s big attractions: the restaurant industry. Statewide, restaurants were limited to selling meals to-go. Now, there’s a lifeline in the federal American Rescue Plan.
“It is an earmarked specific fund for our industry. It is $28.6 billion, you know, looking at losses and trying to help our industry recover,” said Scott Dolch, the executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association.
Restaurants that opened before the act was signed will be eligible for a grant. Even the 700 that either temporarily or permanently closed. Dolch said many restaurants are carrying a load of debt.
“Packed at fifty percent capacity isn’t packed. They’re still working their way out of this,” said Dolch. “It’s going to be a long path for that and they’re going to need every piece of financial support.”
The governor’s executive orders on outdoor dining will expire April 20, so Dolch said the Connecticut Restaurant Association is advocating for state legislature to pass a law that will essentially extend the current rules through 2021. It will remove red tape and complex rules restaurants face for outdoor dining.
The American Rescue Plan will also send $95 million to New Haven, but the mayor said the money can’t be used to completely close budget gaps the city is facing. The money has to go to COVID-related expenses, which will only help the projected $13 to 15-million-dollar budget shortfall for this year.
“It will be helpful in closing that deficit because it will cover some of the lost revenues,” said Elicker.
Those lost revenues are from several pandemic impacts like fewer people parking downtown. The mayor adds that it will also help cover expenses related to police overtime stemming from a rise in crime during COVID-19.
“Our budget issues are primarily driven by increased pension costs and debt service and this funding does not cover that structural problem,” said Elicker.
The city can use it to cover some of the same projected revenue loses, and they say they’ll continue to look for solutions from the state and from Yale University to cover the big dollar deficit.
But the mayor said there are ways to spend the money on long-term benefits for the city, like supporting small businesses, investing in job training and expanding internet access.
“So we’re starting those conversations with the board of alders and we’re going to have conversations with the community about what’s the best impact this funding is going to have on the community,” said Elicker.
Another area that could use support is public health. Bond said many health departments are feeling pressure in their pandemic response.
“In regard to readiness, I think it is so important that we continue to invest in public health a lot of the public health infrastructures were not adequately prepared,” said Bond.
She said the department will be part of those spending discussions on improving the department’s infrastructure as they continue serving the city throughout the pandemic.